Then away to Edgeley Park they quickly walked
For football and contemplation,
And how they laughed as they stalked
O`er a scene of desolation!
The above is offered, with apologies to Chas Dickens ,for murdering his `The Devils Walk`, to emphasise the extent of the drubbing handed out to Harrogate yesterday, and as a sincere tribute to what, in my view, was an exceptional County performance, on the last day of an interesting and challenging season in Conference North.
OK maybe I overstate it a bit, but not by that much… desolation is not far short of accurately describing how it was for the blues opponents as, with captain Phil Jevons playing his final game in the blue and white, and County down to 10 men for much of the game, thanks to the unsurprisingly awful Paul Marsden( the referee).
Harrogate simply could not shake the blues determination and eventually lost a game they thought they had won following a brilliant goal by Dominic Rowe, by the not unflattering margin of 3-1.
Jevons was excellent….scoring 2 goals on his last appearance in blue, but no one shirked their responsibilities in AL`s team ….you could have named Howard( 3 early strikes ,and a tireless exhibition of hard graft after replacing young Lofthouse)….Lees ( Solidity and calm personified) ….O`Halloran( see Lees) or anyone of the rest as M.O.M, but it went to Jevons and I saw no one disputing this!
This match had everything…..pathos( the Jevons factor)…..drama ( cue 2 goals in as many minutes late in the first half for County reversing a 0-1 deficit)…..bathos as keeper Craig MacGillivray and sundry Harrogate forwards treated us to many minutes of mirth during the 90 odd available with some comedy gold.
There was also a pantomime villain in the shape the aforementioned Paul Marsden …..two…if you count Craig Nelthorpe- a young player with a short fuse and a winning way with referees!
It even had a 68 year old mascot in the shape of County supporter Dave Moore. Add that rare commodity goals and it was a near perfect mix as most of `em flew past MacGillivray- what a finale to an otherwise largely forgettable season!
County were unchanged as they took the field to the cheers of another 3000 plus crowd- very few of whom made the trip from North Yorkshire.
The comedy started early with Alex Metcalfe ( who had found Hardcastle Road with his first kick after about 30 seconds)….watching as O`Halloran ushered the ball back to Ormson and then going all of a dither as the young County keeper sprayed his intended clearance straight to his feet.
He should have scored but instead faced with an open goal…he sent a prodigiously under powered shot wide of the target for Ormson to grab.
I enjoyed that, but not as much as the next frolic, which followed some neat work a time or two from O`Halloran who looked on top of his game again.
Suddenly the ball was played in from the right and Lees was outpaced by Dan Clayton who consequently was in on goal.
Again Ormson looked in for a hard time…..again County should have been one down, but gales of laughter pierced the warmish afternoon air as the hapless number 11 swung a boot at the ball and missed!
The draught must have nearly blown Ormson over but the danger was gone and a clearance not long delayed!
The 5th minute was trumpeted in by a glorious bit of work from O`Halloran, who tied Liam Hardy in knots as the forward tied in vain to get a shot off after darting clear……..the sixth brought pressure again on County and this time it was Ashley Worsfold who exerted it carrying the ball to the by-line.
He had O`Halloran in tow though , and the fact must have weight heavily on the lads mind as, when he turned and passed the ball into the box , he sent it straight to Mark Lees who did well to keep a straight face whilst making a prompt clearance.
This was the most interesting of starts , and , finishing apart, Harrogate were threatening to be as affective as they had been at Wetherby Road early in the season, but…Worsfold was just short of robbing Ormson as a loose back pass landed in the box.
Then O`Halloran and Lees , possibly expecting an offside flag, allowed Hardy to run for a long ball into the box.
It was by no means a certainty that Ormson would get this one, but he did….his quick responses doing the biz!
Now ….this was altogether too one way for comfort, and we needed a blue reply, preferably soonish, but instead Dave Merris lumped another cloud scraper into the County box ,where Worsfold was again denied by prompt action by Ormson who seemed to be rapidly re-establishing his equilibrium!
O`Halloran`s equilibrium , as usual, was firmly established and the unfortunate Worsfold again failed to get a shot off when one was in prospect moments later.
It was the 10th minute before anything came back from County courtesy of a long ball into the box by Milligan. In response the usually assured Craig MacGillivray ,in the visitors goal, looked decidedly under pressure as Moke and Dennis tried and failed to snaffle the ball from his grasp.
That was an interesting start for County, if a touch late, and they threatened again, a minute or so later, as a Duxbury run took him to the by line. He then laid the ball off to Moke who set Jevons up for a strike nicely, only to see the liner`s flag up for offside!
There was more defensive work to do for County after this spirited opening response, and Ormson twice did well , cutting a cross from the speedy winger Dominic Rowe out confidently……and then saving a Matt Bloomer header from a free kick lifted into the box by Dan Samuels.
It went on with O`Halloran earning warm applause with some neat work that once more saw Hardy off.
The temptation was to feel routinely downcast in expectation of a Wetherby Road style humiliation, but Moke offered a scintilla of hope, 16 minutes in, with a brilliant run that had the visitors back line all over the place.
The pass inside found Dennis , but his shot hit the woodwork, and anyway once again the Pop Side liner`s flag was flapping in the breeze and it would not have counted. It was good stuff none the less.
The 17th minute saw Harrogate again push County back via another free kick, and it looked distinctly iffy as Anton Brown and the lively Ashley Worsfold converged on the ball and Ormson in the box.
Of the three, Brown looked favourite to get to the ball , and he did, but again brought a smile to my face by stabbing the poorest of shots wide of what looked a distinctly vulnerable target!
It was still mostly Harrogate calling the shots, even so Jevons , shortly after, was inches away from putting a cross from Duxbury away- the bounce thwarting him.
At the other end Harrogate continued to probe the blue back line and in truth their pace was notionally a threat, but that finishing……………..
Metcalfe and Worsfold certainly did their best mid way through the half- the former lifting one into the box for the latter to feast on, but feast rapidly morphed to famine as a tasty tackle by Jacobs stopped the visitors number nine in his tracks, forcing him to be substituted after a prolonged period of treatment.
AL took more or less the same moment to replace Lofthouse with Iain Howard and it was probably a pivotal moment in the game, and within the space of 3 minutes the ex Chester County man went close to scoring 3 times!
The first chance came after good work from Moke and Platt had teed Dennis up with a site of goal…..he couldn`t put it away and the ball landed with Howard who was unlucky to see his first time shot crash into a post and go wide!
Hmm……great start for Iain, but more followed and quickly Moke combined with Jacobs this time to see Howard nicely set up, and he didn`t disappoint ,and MacGillivray did really well to keep this strike out and keep it at 0-0.
The Howard toured force went on and on, as he latched onto the ball after a Jacobs shot had been charged down and lashed another shot in on target. MacGillivray again made the save to deny him, but this was indeed an impressive opening salvo from Howard!
Could County build on this good work? Well Jevons certainly tried, but when he slipped the neatest of through balls Dennis`s way, the ex Ashton Hatter dithered , allowing Bloomer to track back and clear his lines!
Un deterred the excellent Phil Jevons ran the ball up field from deep for the umpteenth time, and Moke`s cross from this found no takers, but did result in a free kick, which neither Platt or Dennis could capitalise on when a half chance presented itself.
Not long after County had another free kick when Howard was stopped by a hefty tackle from Rowe. Again a Moke cross offered us a glimmer, which proved illusory when once more no one in blue was on hand to apply the finish.
If that last action was disappointing, more rapidly followed as Harrogate worked the ball clear – Rowe cutting inside down the right before lashing a glorious finish into the far corner of the net- an excellent goal, but we were one down ,so I wasn`t cheering!
Credit to County…..they tried to respond, and free kicks and corners came their way as Howard continued to snap at the North Yorkshire sides entrails. Moke joined in…laying it off neatly to Jevons who stroked a lovely curling shot in on goal.
It was smack on the money, but so was MacGillivray and his dive saw him tip the ball over the bar in spectacular fashion!
Another raid from County was followed by around 5 minutes of solid pressure from Harrogate during which time I made my way from C.E to Bergara Stand , camera at the ready.
Whilst I was there, the pressure continued but almost right on half time a hand to ball moment from Rowe ended the latest raid from the Yorkshire side heralding a reply from the blues….and what a reply it was!
Moke started it…. working it clear with some routine brilliance, and just when I thought the move was about to flounder in front of goal…it didn`t….. and Jevons lit up the place by firing the ball home from close in!
That was excellent and a tad unexpected I must say, but more followed as the ball found its way to MacGillivray who routinely( or so I thought) made to welly it clear.
I had forgotten the newly established Harrogate Comedy Tradition however and the keeper promptly reminded us with some wondrous sleight of hand.
Unfortunately it was more Tommy Cooper than Paul Daniels, and somehow, with Duxbury in the vicinity, he managed to spill it nicely in his path, and young Scott duly took advantage waltzing the ball into the net to the accompaniment of loud cheers and unkind laughter!
In no time it was half time and the place was abuzz and overflowing with happy smiling faces……excellent stuff!
During the half time interval I joined Help the Hatters for a photo opportunity on the pitch with Mathew Todd who`s wages, upon signing for the Club, Help the Hatters had agreed to cover.
The ending to the first half had been a touch surreal, but Rowe tried his best to restore normality on the re-start by slinging a tasty cross into the box, but Lees was on hand to see this off, and was in action again not long after conceding a corner as Harrogate threatened down the left.
The corner saw Ormson on hand to punch out under pressure, but he did even better when Harrogate came back his way – beating a fierce drive from Hardy out in fine style!
County responded to this via Duxbury, and a ferocious shot from him fizzed inches over the bar with MacGillivray a spectator!
County kept the pressure on through Moke who won applause and a corner with some neat work. This put MacGillivray in some difficulties, and a rather iffy punch by no means sorted matters, but the referee spotted `something` and Harrogate had a free kick and relief.
The relief was but temporary though as Moke pushed Harrogate back once more – being thwarted by some timely sweeping up by MacGillivray.
Unfortunately for the visitors however he swept the ball straight to Dennis, but unfortunately for us…he was off balance and the chance was gone.
Again County went on the attack via Howard this time, who set Dennis up for a shot which the keeper managed to push for a corner, only for the officials to award a goal kick – what a set of dipsticks!
This last nonsense did not seem to deter County however, and after good work from Jacobs and O`Halloran at the back, more pressure came Harrogate`s way , and I was more than a touch annoyed to see the liners flag up when Howard darted clear down the left.
County persisted as Moke fed Howard and this time we did get a corner ( cue ironic cheers) as MacGillivray tipped it over the top.
A Milligan shot carried the bar from this, following which Duxbury went looking to add to his goal tally with a run that took him to the by-line. Nothing came of it, but it was good to see!
I was quite unprepared for what happened next!
Sixty five minutes had gone, and Lees had just routinely put to bed a raid spearheaded by Hardy, when the ball ran loose.
Jacobs and Nelthorpe converged on it at speed …..it was a definite 50/50 and one that Jacobs won, but he was also a tad high and caught Nelthorpe pretty neatly.
Cue….testosterone tango as Nelthorpe went AS and launched himself at Jacobs with his own rib tickler and the Stockport man pushed his opponent in the chest in time honoured fashion.
Everyone and his dog was looking to join in by this time, and probably no one noticed that a free kick had been given to the Yorkshire side.
Everyone noticed the referee`s next action though as he waved a red in Jacobs direction.
That was probably justified, but where was the red for Nelthorpe who had responded in kind?
The answer was he got a yellow which was ever so typical of what we get from officials! County now had 25 minutes to hold onto their lead…a big ask!
Not long after, Moke was replaced by Sanchez Payne, leaving the field to generous applause.
Harrogate went on the offensive but it was a bit one dimensional, consisting of high balls lifted hopefully towards the Railway End goal.
The 70th minute saw a shout for a penalty turned down as Dennis was upended in the box by Matt Heath.
There were those around me who saw a dive, but I would have given it, and Dennis was miffed that the ref didn`t- earning himself a rebuke not long after from the official.
My sympathies, perhaps unsurprisingly, were with Dennis, as not long after with him pressurising MacGillivray, there was a definite push in Jevons back in the box…the referee blew for a free kick to Harrogate!
The pressure came from County still as I asked myself just who was down to 10 men? The ball flew silkily from Payne to Dennis and on to Milligan, and Merris had to look very lively indeed to keep them out and stop the rot!
Stop it he did though, but only temporarily as a foul on Jevons by Metcalfe, teed up a free kick that fizzed from Jevon`s foot like an exocet goal wards where MacGillivray dived to tip it over at the last gasp!
Ridiculously it was all County and MacGillivray had to pull off another snorter with 10 minutes left as Dennis fired one in on the turn.
This was great stuff from County, and the Upper Tier of the Cheadle End was in mighty voice doing their best to keep the blue lead intact!
For Harrogate it appeared not to be too late for a bit more comedy gold, as their umpteenth high/long/ hopeful ball made it into the box where Hardy had it with the goal gaping.
He was half a yard out, and I think I might have put it away, but he didn`t missing the goal by a yard or more!
That was awful and more than a touch of desperation was creeping into the visitors work now especially at the back, probably due to the fact that Lees and O`Halloran were dealing magnificently and calmly with what came their way- still County looked anything but a side operating with reduced numbers!
Harrogate needed some application and invention in place of the high and hopeful stuff, but instead they persisted and despite a corner or two never looked that like equalising.
Then it was too late for them, although things did look on for a break as Payne lost possession, but the lad tracked his man brilliantly and won the ball back and from there momentum built with blue shirts queuing for a shot.
The honour fell to Howard and he fired a beaut on target which the keeper saved brilliantly.
He could only parry it however and it ran clear to Jevons who took his time before firing a fine finish in. It took a slight deflection, off Payne I think, and Bloomer did his level best to see it away before the ball crossed the line ,but it was mission impossible, and he failed and it was 3-1 to 10 man County!
Mathew Todd came on for his debut in added time, during which Howard did his utmost to add to County`s lead, but it was not to be and the season was over, but not before crowd and players saluted each other.
The ideal finish to a difficult season- let`s hope for more of what we saw today next season….catch you then!
County line up:
Ormson, Jacobs, Duxbury, Lees, O`Halloran, Milligan, Platt,Lofthouse ( Howard 24 ), Moke ( Payne 68), Jevons, Dennis ( Todd 90) .
Subs not used ; Charnock, Churchman.
Harrogate line up;
MacGillivray, Samuels, Merris, Brown, Bloomer, Heath, Rowe, Metcalfe,Worsfold, Hardy, Clayton.
Attendance : 3126
County 3 Harrogate Town 1
Then away to Edgeley Park they quickly walked